July 22, 2011 § 6 Comments
‘The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.’
The words that started an empire.
I read my first Harry Potter book, The Chamber of Secrets, when I was 13 years old, three years after The Philosopher’s Stone had hit bookshelves but before Potter Mania had engulfed the world. From that moment the spell was cast and I devoured book after book in quick succession. It wasn’t until page 640 in book number four, The Goblet of Fire, that I had to learn patience. Slow months went by as I awaited the release of Prisoner of Azkaban, my young mind nearly exploding in anticipation of what the Hogwarts crew was up to.
And so it goes with many of the great series.
It was late December 2001, I was coming out of the cinema after watching the first Lord Of The Rings film with the Batman and my dad. The clock had just gone 3pm yet the temperature outside still sat on 42˚C (c.100F). I was on a little sugar high from choc-tops and Maltesers and the back of my legs had gone to sleep about an hour prior. Standing in the carpark, without words at the AWESOMENESS that was LOTR, Batman and I thought we would absolutely die if we had to wait an entire year for the next installment.
It was 1999, the streets were drowning in rain, I was 11. We were at a coastal town, having enjoyed breakfast at a seaside cafe watching the storm punish the nearby sand. Batman wanted to get back to the hotel where he would have access to cable. Unfortunately for Batman it was nice weather for Ducks and chickens to trawl second hand bookstores and antique shops in search of the next volume of Trixie Belden, my favourite all-time series, first published in 1948 and not easily accessible at the local library or bookstore. Store after store after store until finally we came upon a man selling rocking horses and old books.
It was mere weeks ago when separation anxiety once again reared its ugly head. NB and I had been loyal followers of the HBO series Game of Thrones, staying up past my bedtime each Sunday evening until the final nail-biting episode. Again, an entire year must go past before I will be reacquainted with those friends.
Now, you may ask what on earth all this talk has to do with pirate cupcakes? Good question!
Another series that has spanned nearly a decade is Pirates Of The Caribbean. While I enjoyed the first POTC, very much actually, it wasn’t one of those “ARE THEY REALLY MAKING ME WAIT FOR THE SEQUEL…” kind of films.
But I do love pirates, and all things nautical.
Yep, you heard right. Toenails. O.P.I has released a Pirates of the Caribbean range and I loved their jeweled, ocean green lacquer. A combination of blue and yellow food colouring and I think I got pretty close!
Tell me blushers, what movie, book or show has hooked you the most?
June 13, 2011 § 4 Comments
Gosh I can be silly sometimes.
This Saturday past we travelled up to Raleigh for a wedding. Considering that the weather was sweltering I had packed a bag with a pretty light summer dress, a pair of strappy sandals and a hundred pins to sling up my hair and keep my neck cool. Makeup would be bare summer essentials: bronzer, clear lipgloss, mascara. The next day I would have a fresh change of shirt and shorts for the drive home. How cool, calm and collected did I sound?
That was until we were driving into Chapel Hill, two hours from home, when I turned to NB and asked:
“Did you put my bag in the car?”
NB: “Did you ask me to?”
BS: “No….ohh gosh!!”
I had a mental image of my overnight bag sitting on our bed beneath the ceiling fan and light that I also didn’t turn off (add electricity bill woes to wardrobe disaster!)
NB looked and me and I looked at NB. NB looked down at the (now unflatteringly sweaty) skirt, singlet and flip flops that I was wearing and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
NB: “How did you forget your bag?”
And this is where food comes into the story, once again addling my brain and dominating my attention.
BS: “I was hungry and decided to make a smoothie before we left…I brought the smoothie with me at least!” I said, holding up a long empty glass. “It was delicious!”
Luckily NB saw the funny side and was happy to make a detour into Macy’s. I’m not adept at clothes shopping on a good day but under a time constraint with the thought of appropriate wedding attire hovering over my head, talk about pressure! It was on like Kong. 10 minutes, a knee length blue dress and a pair of wedges later and we were back out the door. And thank goodness for RH, who hooked me up with makeup, shampoo, jewelry and all the other essentials. Beware, having me as a house-guest may result in a raid on your bathroom cabinet!
But as they say, all’s well that ends well. The wedding was beautiful, full of song and beauty and love, good food and fine company. As for my little faux pas, if I had the time again I probably would still choose the smoothie. It was just really good.
Tell me Blushers, what was your biggest OMG fashion moment?
Banana & Berry Smoothie
1/2 frozen banana
1 cup mixed berries (blueberry and raspberry used above)
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup milk (almond milk used above)
Pour into chilled glass.
Add 1/4 cup cold coconut milk
Swirl with a teaspoon to combine.
Remember your bag.
June 7, 2011 § 7 Comments
I have spoken before about my addiction to cookbooks and how it was a heartbreaking experience to part with so many of my hardback-bound friends when I moved to America. While I miss flicking through Neil Perry’s Simply Asian and Georgio Locatelli’s Italian Bible: Made In Italy I am happy to report that they have both found a comfortable home with The Duck.
This isn’t to say that I left them all behind. I decided that as an Australian arriving in the Southern states of America I would need such classics as: Food We Love (AWW), 5 Of The Best (delicious magazine), the perfect cookbook I & II (David Herbert) and Simple Essentials: beef, lamb, pork (Donna Hay). Since arriving I have also acquired two Paula Deen cookbooks (Paula Deen’s kitchen classics & Paula Deen and friends), thanks to a lovely dinner guest who generously gave me her own copies, as well as three second hand copies of the Carolina’s version of CWA recipe books.
So it would be frivolous and unnecessary to say I need another cookbook.
But I reeeeaaalllly want this one – Man With A Pan: Culinary Adventures Of Fathers Who Cook For Their Families. This collection of stories and recipes was brainstormed and edited by John Donohue, the blogger behind Stay At Stove Dad and well-known editor for ‘Going Ons About Town’ in the New Yorker . I’m yet to get my hands on a copy but basically Donohue has gathered fathers from across the realm – think everyone from Stephen King and celebrity chef Mario Batali, to a fireman in Brooklyn and a bond trader in LA – and had them share their food memories and favourite dish.
I can’t wait until this book is sitting on my kitchen table and what a better gift for Father’s Day (June 19)… wives, mothers, daughters, this will be the gift that keeps on giving!
June 6, 2011 § 8 Comments
I don’t have a great memory, I never really have. Studying for my final school exams I must have made at least 100 identical copies of my notes in an attempt to carve the words into my brain. And it worked. For the next week I could have told you anything about Australian troops in Vietnam, flawlessly quoted the exisentialist tragicomedy that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, talked my way around a Japanese dinner table and written a business plan for a company up to their eyebrows in debt. Unfortunately as soon as I had submitted the papers all of that information fell out my ears.
“We’re more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can’t give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They’re all blood, you see” … (thank goodness for Google!)
But one thing I am good at is sensory memory. As food lovers we would all experience how taste can take us back to another time, another place. For me the taste of Weetbix with cold milk reminds me of eating midnight cereal with my Dad. The taste of Weetbix with hot water and warm milk reminds me of breakfast with my Aunt and her rascals with the pleasant musty smell hay in the air and the promise of sweet Blue Ribbon ice-cream. A crunchy peanut butter & Vegemite sandwich is synonymous with after-school snacks at my Nan’s kitchen table and any strange combination of ingredients under grilled cheese on toast is me as a young girl sitting at the farm and eyeing my plate with scepticism. Never again will I be able to eat sweet potato with tahini without remembering BR’s kitchen table and her mum’s spring vegetable pasta.
But it’s not only taste, but scent, auditory, tactile and visual.
The smell of star jasmine and honeysuckle is springtime back home and the touch of burning hot asphalt on sun-toughened feet takes me back to beachside holidays, especially when paired with the ice cream truck melody. The jingle of keys, wallets and lipsticks in a large handbag remind me of the thrill of going through my grandmother’s purse every time I saw her, the world of the grown woman was exciting beyond belief. Panic At The Disco will always be linked in my memory with The Batman circa 2008, and Boom Boom Pow is peddling my heart out in a spin class in 2010, watching the massive thighs of the instructor and expecting to die.
It’s funny the things that make you remember: the smell of leather shoes, a frosty nose and dragon’s breath, fluorescent lights in a city train station, Kings Of Leon, burnt toast. I can’t explain it and I can’t control it. I also can’t predict what memories will be created from what I’m hearing, tasting, touching and smelling now in 2011, in North Carolina, at 23.
Just something to think about. Tell me Blushers, what makes you remember?
May 8, 2011 § 2 Comments
Check out these strawberries on My Little Expat Kitchen. A coffee, a croissant and a bowl of berries would put me in Sunday morning heaven.
(As it happens I just quickly ate leftover Thai Green Curry, standing infront of the open fridge door as I prepare to head to work Mother’s Day Brunch at the restaurant. Alas, a Blusher can always dream!)
May 3, 2011 § 8 Comments
Ever since Paul Newman wobbled his way down that rocky path I have loved old fashioned bicycles.
We were looking around and considered this one…but maybe it’s a little hardcore for the city??!
Saturday: My birthday surprise arrives from NB, and it’s perfect. An elegant cruiser with lots of style and a basket for my milk.
Of course riding music is important. What would you choose?
And apparently specialty underpants are required. Hmm, I can’t see a 1800 – number to place my order…
Tell me Blushers, if you were outside riding all day, what snack would you take with you?
April 25, 2011 § 5 Comments
First things first, I melted our food processor.
What does this have to do anything? Well, I wanted to make a carrot-bread for Easter morning tea, and I knew that using the processor would make it into a 6 minute job and save the laborious task of grating 8 carrots by hand. Fortunately the processor still works and for future reference it is wise to avoid placing the bowl directly onto a hot cooktop.
Easter is synonymous with many things, and gluttony is certainly one of them. I remember childhood Easters of eating myself sick with chocolate and the day would inevitably end in loud moans and cramping agony. My brother on the other hand was a hoarder. He would hide his loot around the house so I couldn’t raid his bag once I was finished and for the months that followed we would find bunnies and eggs tucked behind peg baskets in the laundry or stuffed in the cracks between the pantry and the fridge.
This year I decided to show some restraint and instead of creating some deliciously naughty chocolate concoction, I decided to bake a healthy loaf in the shape of a carrot. I took a regular carrot cake recipe as my starting point and then fiddled and adapted it until it became gluten-free, dairy-free, no-added sugar, and just really really healthy. When I mentioned my idea to NB he showed no mercy: “That will taste terrible, I thought you invited people over for cake!” I could see the potential for disaster if my crowd showed up for the promised ‘Easter Cake’ to be fed carrot-loaf. I quickly emailed a disclaimer before moving back to the oven – ‘please join NB and I for a HEALTHY Easter treat. Eat at your own risk’.
I tasted the batter as I was mixing and it certainly lacked a cake-like sweetness, but then I remembered the jar of apple-sauce in our cupboard and I was thrilled to be able to use some. I felt so American putting apple sauce in a recipe!
As it turned out the cake was a hit. Admittedly it became MUCH more indulgent when I covered the cream cheese in Reese’s Pieces (Peanut Butter filled chocolate shells (Gluten free, not healthy, very delicious). An alternative could be you wanted to mixing a few tablespoons of natural nut butter into the cream cheese for flavour and decorating the cake with edible flowers.
Tell me Blushers, what did the Bunny bring for you this year?
The Bunny NB delivered an Easter Basket filled with dark chocolate raisins, a mango and real Dutch carrots!
To create the shape I sat one loaf above the other and used a sharp paring knife. Using a hot knife to spread the cream cheese, I decorated the outside with Reese’s Pieces and orange jellybeans. The ‘fronds’ use cream cheese tinted green and sprinkles.
(Makes 2 loaves)
6 dates and 6 dried apricots, soaked in 1/2 cup boiling water for 5 minutes (reserve water)
2/3 cup almonds
2/3 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups grated carrot
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup gluten free flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
In a food processor, process nuts to a fine meal. Place in a large bowl with flour, baking soda, oats, cinnamon, ginger and salt.
Process dates, apricots and water. Add eggs and vanilla and process to mix. Add wet mix to flour bowl with grated carrot and applesauce. Stir to mix.
Divide evenly into 2 baking paper-lined loaf tins and bake 30-35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cream cheese ‘frosting’
Combine in processor:
2x blocks low fat cream cheese
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 vanilla bean scraped
April 19, 2011 § 11 Comments
In my family birthdays are never single day events. Normally celebrations will begin at home, before moving on to parties with friends and finally sharing a meal with other members of the family. In fact, until I moved to Sydney I don’t remember having a birthday that wasn’t extended for 7 – 10 days. It was just the way we did things.
Yesterday was NB’s birthday (hip hip hooray), and in true Blushing style we started the party on Saturday and won’t wrap it up until after the last slice of cake tonight!
The first part of Saturday welcomed us with torrential rain, so bad that I had expected to see Noah sail past at any given moment, but it was the perfect excuse to stay inside and make a cake.
When I was growing up The Duck would make the most INCREDIBLE cakes. We would always have one for the birthday party and another one to take to school and share with the class. These cakes looked like they had stepped straight out of a Disney set and they tasted like heaven, making me the classroom hero for the next four hours. Over the course of the years I think that my brother and I had every cake in The Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book (editions one and two), and the AWW Party Cakes For All Occasions. When we started getting older things became a little more sophisticated: triple layer mousse cake, profiterole towers, friands decorated with wildflowers…but I’ll always love remembering the look on my brother’s face when ‘Joe Bad’ was brought to the table in all its vibrant hair and safety-pin nose ring glory.
This year I wanted to bring back that fun. So the question came – what to make? Well Blushers, should you ever converse with NB and his friends you should expect to hear something along the following lines:
- Homer: When I held that gun in my hand, I felt a surge of power…like God must feel when he’s holding a gun.
- Ned Flanders: I’ve done everything the Bible says — even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!
- Homer: I’m normally not a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me, Superman.
- Comic Book Guy: Your questions have become more redundant and annoying than the last three “Highlander” movies.
- Homer: You don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You go in every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.
- Chief Wiggum: Uh, no, you got the wrong number. This is 9-1…2.
- Homer: Fame was like a drug. But what was even more like a drug were the drugs
- Sideshow Bob: I’ll be back. You can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House forever, and when they get in, I’m back on the streets, with all my criminal buddies.
- Homer: Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It’s what separates us from the animals…except the weasel.
- Milhouse: Remember the time he ate my goldfish? And you lied and said I never had goldfish. Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? *Why did I have the bowl?*
- Homer: Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.
- Lionel Hutz: Well, he’s kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace “accidentally” with “repeatedly” and replace “dog” with “son.”
- Homer: Lisa, vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins, and Eskimos.
…And so on!
I’m repeatedly impressed by how two men can carry out a whole conversation in quotes when I can’t even remember the punch line of a joke.
Ironically, after the candles were blown out no-one quoted a thing…should I have known I might have said:
Marge: Aww, look, Homie, our wedding cake!
Homer: You mean there’s been cake in our freezer for eleven years? Why was I not informed?
Homer: Keep looking shocked and move slowly towards the cake.
I used Nigella Lawson’s chocolate cake recipe
The top is iced with a simple carrot cake cream cheese frosting, NB’s favourite, and I used a black gel-icing pen to draw the outline once I had finished the colour.
The center is filled with melted chocolate and mascarpone.
Around the edge is chocolate buttercream. I don’t worry about quantities when I make this, just a good chunk of butter, some icing sugar and melted chocolate…I really don’t think it can go wrong with those three ingredients!
Tell me Blushers, what was your favourite cake when you were growing up?
April 16, 2011 § 5 Comments
I spent about an hour yesterday morning in the wine aisle of our local Harris Teeter just exploring the new labels available to me here in America. The largest wine producing region is California’s Napa Valley. Apparently California produces more wine in a single year than all of Australia, producing 631,575,325 gallons in 2009. Wow! Following California is New York, Washington State and Oregon, but I still need to try wines from these last three regions.
Since living here we have also had access to a lot of well prices South American wines like Malbec, Torrontes, Albarino and Tempranillo, which I am really enjoying because they’re all very drinkable alone or with food.
I’m trying to be a bit healthier lately, so I was looking for a bottle with a lower alcohol content (low alcohol = fewer calories right?) but everything seemed to sit around 12% -13.5%, which sure seemed high.
And this is where I admit that I’m a complete wine novice.
But my interest was sparked. At work later that day I approached our sommelier and asked him about low alcohol wines. He told me that low alcohol wines were normally the cheaper wines because the grapes are harvested earlier, before they have time to fully ripen and develop the extra sugar that is converted into alcohol during the fermentation process. He mentioned that usually a low alcohol wine will have more sugar in the bottle and less alcohol.
Hang on a minute, so low alcohol wines are higher in sugar? That doesn’t seem healthier at all.
This made me question whether or not it is worth the sacrifice of taste and a full-body if I’m still dosing up on sugar calories? It depends who you ask I guess. Some people will say that a low alcohol bottle does not compare, while others prefer to drink on the lighter side. But there is light and there is light. Further research into the debate has uncovered the following: whether for or against low alcohol wines, any wine-lower will tell you to NEVER buy a wine that has been artificially reduced in alcohol:
“EU regulations do not allow winemakers to add water to wine (you can see why: it could easily become a fraudulent way of printing money) so they are forced to turn to all sorts of obscure and highly technical methods involving spinning cones and reverse osmosis to get the alcohol out. Result: a wine that tastes as if it has been made in a Fiat factory. Often, it stinks of sulphurous chemicals and tastes dank, like laundry that has been forgotten in the washing machine for a week”
My sommelier agrees. He tells me that if you want a lighter wine, choose one that is naturally lower in alcohol, like a citrusy Australian Semillon from the Hunter Valley or a German riesling (but do expect that they will taste sweeter because they have unconverted sugars). These wines will still sit around 9-11%, but apparently that counts as the low end of the alcohol spectrum, with some Zinfadels ranging from 17% to 22%!
I love what you can learn when you ask around, and in the end it comes down to taste. As Jonathan Ray at The Telegraph put it:
“It’s time to stop fussing about alcohol levels and perhaps just drink a little less of whatever’s in the bottle.”
Cheers to that.
March 31, 2011 § 2 Comments
…the Strawberry Patch will ramble.
Vegans. Now that’s a hardcore life decision. Or vegetarians – also totally legit. It’s when people start calling themselves ‘pescatarian’ that I get a little cynical, I mean from a life point of view I don’t believe there is a difference between a cow or a sheep. But the dawn of the ‘flexitarian’ revolution has really got my goat, so to speak. It’s a prime example of having your (beef)cake and eating it too…ok, enough puns!
For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, a flexitarian is someone who is semi-vegetarian, or for whom the ratio of vegetable to meat on a plate is about 8:2, or who choose to not eat meat on Mondays.
How is this making headlines? The Italians and the Asians have been making vegetable based meals for decades but no one is heralding them as the new responsible eaters (sorry to steal your limelight, Paul McCartney).
So yes, ideally each plate should have more vegetables than meat, but do we really need to further segregate the eating community over a chop or two??
Who would pay $625 for a cookbook?? Because I’m really interested to know!
Finally, as a group who probably spend a large portion of our money in the supermarkets I’m sure we’re all a little miffed that prices keep going up while sizes keep going down. If only they would at least be honest about it.